Almost four years ago now, I got the opportunity to run the Little White Salmon for the first time. Over a decade ago, I recall seeing the first ever full color centerfold in American Whitewater, and although I had spent arguably all of my life paddling, I could not recognize the waterfall. It definitely looked like something I wanted, needed, to paddle. Keep in mind, I grew up paddling the rivers and creeks in North Arkansas, the Southeast and in Colorado. The Pacific Northwest, although we had visited once, was largely an unknown land to me.
The waterfall was Spirit Falls, renamed from The Cathedral by Jens Riogeist when he notched the first descent in the mid '90's. Not long before, at the 1999 summer Outdoor Retailer Trade Show, I met Jayson Bowerman, who lived in Hood River. He told me of the incredible paddling where he lived. He had mentioned something about an epic river I had to see. It took a while for me to put all the pieces together to realize these rivers were one in the same, The Little White Salmon.
It was not until over a decade later I would finally get the opportunity to run the Little White for the first time. Following a conference in Boise on my way back to Olympia, where we now live, it was only a week after the annual Little White race. Dane Jackson and Pat Keller were still hanging around White Salmon, and offered to lead me down.
As is likely the case for most first first laps down the Little White, I do not recall many details about the run. It was a blur of whitewater, and I loved it. The Little White is easily the densest single section of whitewater I have ever paddled.
The cadence, although not hurried, was quick. Dane and Pat had just raced the run, and were intimately familiar with it. Dane would quickly brief me in a tiny eddy, and peel out for me to follow. I would look up to see Pat grinning at me, peel out, follow Dane's line, and Pat gleefully followed, playing with lines as he went. I couldn't have asked for better guides on my first lap.
The following year I got the chance to get another lap with a few paddlers from the Portland area, but after nearly a year since seeing the run before, the experience was much the same. It was a blur of whitewater, and a heck of a great time.
Not altogether different than many new parents with young kids, my fitness is decidedly not what it was before kids. Admittedly, this is somewhat a consequense of age as well. Still, I firmly believe fitness is a large component of safety when paddling difficult whitewater, and if I want to continue to paddle hard whitewater, I need to address this.
Reflecting on my past life spent primarially as an athlete in two different sports, especially my time spent focusing on whitewater slalom, when the course first started to open up in the spring, we typically held a training camp with two to three sessions per day. These training camps sharpened up skills and dramatically honed fitness from the winter.
This year I decided to make my own flavor of training camp. The reason is two fold. First, putting something on the calendar is an event in itself. Just like putting a race on the calendar, this forces me to get ready to be able to hit it hard for a whole week. Second, I want to learn the lines on the Little White Salmon. Just like learning anything, repitition in close succession is the best way to learn the lines, so this was part of the plan, double-pumping every day during a window of time likely to have decent, but not exceedingly high flows.
This is an idea I have had for a couple of years. In late December of last year, I decided this was going to be the year. Starting as soon as we got back from holiday travel, I started putting in the best option I have for daily training - attaining on the Deschutes here in Olympia just upstream of the falls next to the old Olympia Brewery, and doing as many upstream turns as possible on my way back downstream.
This year was going surprisingly good. I was getting in my boat quite regularly. In the last month, I finally started feeling like I could really hang on, build pressure, and accelerate out of upstream turns again. True, I do not have any gates to train on, but during the downstream portions of my attaining laps, I use anything even resembling an eddy to work on upstream turns.
Early March was looking promising, the snow was good, and getting better for skiing. This made for great downhill skiing and also facilitated something else I started picking up this year, nordic skate skiing. Good snow on the mountains means plenty of rain in Olympia. The Deschutes was running high, which I like for attaining. High, surging and boiling water definitely sharpens boat handing when headed upstream, and makes for enjoyable and snappy upstreams on the way down.
The weekend of 14-15 March was a dramatic turning point in Washington state. We went from guidelines for social distancing to mandated shelter-in-place. Quite literally, our world changed almost overnight. Since then, just like everybody else on the west coast and eastern seaboard, we have been sheltering in place, hunkered down in our house, working from home, and trying to keep our kids from driving us crazy.
My wife and I share our calendars with each other to make the task of juggling two professional careers and a family a little easier. She looked at my calendar a few days ago and asked about the week I had blocked off. Sadly, due to the covocalypse, this year will again not be the year.
Further, comparatively this is not a big thing to have to sacrifice. I am well aware of this. Still, once you put someting on the calendar, it bcomes something to look forward to. Now, much like everybody else, with so much unknown, the near future feels a empty and hollow. Maybe next year...hopefully...
Until then, I'm doing my homework. Visualizaiton was a huge part of training for slalom racing, even including watching somebody else do a move, learning this move and acquiring new technique through visualization. I am applying this same approach toward learning the lines on the Little White, finding videos on YouTube and Vimeo comprised largely of top to bottom runs, and watching them to have a better mental picture of the river and lines for when I finally get the opportunity to get back out there.
During these searches, there are obviously the videos created more as eye candy, and during these times, I watch plenty of these as well. After all, they capture so much of the enjoyable river culture.
I miss the river.